Wednesday, July 8, 2009


HORROR EXPRESS (1972) Directed by Eugenio Martín. Starring Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing. Telly Savalas. Alberto de Mendoza. Julio Peña

There are certain actors that bring a certain amount of sheer class and professionalism to even the most ropey of movies, actors who steadfastly refuse to give the audience a knowing wink or acknowledge in any way that, in fact, they are doing something rather silly and beneath them.

The 1972 Euro-shocker Horror Express is thankfully blessed with not one, not two, but three such actors in the shape of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and, in one of the most riotously over-the-top performances ever committed to celluloid, Telly Savalas.

Penned by Arnaud d'Usseau & Julian Zimet, the same team that brought you the campy and downright daft Psychomania, Horror Express is a sort of European Hammer-lite (mostly due to the presence of Cushing and Lee) that involves reanimated Neanderthals, brain sucking aliens and, in its bravura climax, zombie Cossacks.

The plot involves Professors Saxton and Wells (Lee and Cushing) transporting a Peking Man style missing link from China to Russia via the Trans-Siberian Express only to discover that a killer walks among them, a killer with glowing eyes who not only sucks clean the brains of its victims but can also transfer its consciousness from one body to another. What is this strange entity from beyond the stars? Who will it possess next? Father Pujardov? Inspector Mirov? Countess Irina? Professor Wells? Professor Saxton? (Hardly the last two: as Cushing says rather archly: “Monster? We’re British, you know.”) Or will overacting Captain Kazan save the day?

Moving from its creature feature first half into a zombies on a train second act, Horror Express is an odd film that strives for the Hammer feel but lacks the vibrancy of Hammer at its best. It is, however, always a pleasure to see Cushing and Lee together and the film manages a creeping sense of claustrophobia along with some inventive shocks, solid supporting cast – particularly Alberto de Mendoza’s repellent Father Pujardov and Julio Peña’s Inspector Mirov - and really rather disturbing zombie Cossacks.

Pitched somewhere between of Quatermass and the Pit and Plague of the Zombies, Horror Express is a film that tries its hardest to be intelligent – asking questions about the nature of faith and mankind’s role in the universe – but ultimately has to settle for being mildly good fun.

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